Review: 198cm Select Pulse Paddle

I’ve been using the Select Pulses (straight shaft) for nearly a year now, on everything from technical Scottish creeks to big volume waves on the Nile, and I have to say I love them. The Pulses are Select’s top of the line carbon whitewater paddles, marketed for both creeking and freestyle, and featuring foam core blades. I have the large blade, 710cms, which is one of the largest blades on the market. I bought the paddles from the new UK company Fire It Up, who have been incredibly good to deal with. They RRP at £329.

First Impressions:

The paddles arrived really well packaged, no chance of them getting damaged in transit. When I first opened the package, my initial thought was ‘Ooh, shiny!’ followed by ‘Wow they’re pretty!’ The finish on the blades was really stunning, neat joins, no excess glue, smooth edges and an almost liquid shine to the carbon. The blades are relatively broad for their width, very thick (compared to carbon Werners and my old VE’s), with an unusual bulge on the back (where the foam is). This is similar in design to the aircore on VE paddles, where the core doesn’t run all the way to the edges of the blade (like Werner, AT and Double Dutch), to minimise the damage of any chips – even big chips to the blade will not affect the integrity of the core. The shafts are ovalised to improve grip, which I’d found a problem on the slippery glass shaft of my VE’s. There are a couple of stickers on the blades, I’m not overly keen on the design of them, but a little colour on a black paddle is no bad thing – easier to spot if you lose them.

Shiny!

On the Water:

These blades are very very powerful. More so than anything else I’ve ever used, partly due to the blade and partly due to their immense stiffness. I like that – if possible, I prefer to use one stroke rather than three. At first this took a bit of getting used to though, definitely more effort to pull the blade through the water, and I found myself more tired than I usually would be after my first few rivers with them. This ceased to be a problem after a few trips as I got stronger, leaving just the benefits. Firing off big boofs becomes a cinch.

About to launch an important boof on the Garbh Allt

They have a really nice feel in the water, very buoyant, very stable, and almost ‘grippy.’ Again I found this a big improvement over the VE’s, which although powerful, seemed very ‘slicey,’ (not quite fluttery), just a bit too willing to move around during a stroke. Saying that, with a twist of the wrist the Pulses are very happy to slice through the water, for seamless rudder-to-boof combo strokes – one of my favourite moves. They have a strong catch, are balanced through the stroke, and release cleanly at the end. They are very responsive, and really transmit feeling up the shaft to the paddler (partly a product of the stiffness). It’s hard to really describe the subtleties of how a blade feels in the water, and everyone has different preferences, but I prefer the feel of these to almost every other paddle I’ve tried, from Robson to Mitchel, Vertical Element, Rough Stuff and Werner (including a friend’s carbon Powerhouses). The only exceptions to that are the AT2s and Double Dutch slalom paddles – both of which have a similar slalom-style shape, that seems to lend itself to an incredibly ‘positive’ catch and great water feel. However, they are both prone to breaking (particularly the light Double Dutches), neither have the power of the Pulses, and the AT2s are also more expensive.

Boofing the middle hole on the big slide on the Lui

I really like the oval grips on the shaft, I’ve had no problems keeping hold of them. A big improvement over the VE’s, which were so slippery that more than once I ended up having to try last minute C1-style boofs in places where I would really rather have not. I ended up covering them in surf wax – wasn’t very popular next time they went in my mate’s car…

Boof! Impact on the Lui

When rolling or bracing in funky water, the buoyancy and power of the blades really does make a difference – there’s just so much support. If you’re still in a hole, it’s very easy to find the surface to start your roll – just relax and the blade will show you the way.

The buoyant blades give lots of confidence even in places you’d rather not be…

Comical Topo-beating on the North Esk

There have been comments on the strength of back strokes, due to the bulge on the back. I’m a terrible playboater, and very rarely use back strokes the rest of the time, but I honestly haven’t noticed an issue. The edges of the bulge gradually slope down to the rest of the blade face, I don’t feel any instability in it. One definite plus of this shape over a traditional spine, is that the blades slice much more cleanly through the water with no drag – a bonus on the Nile, where I would often slice the blade through the crest of a breaking wave to pull me out the other side.

Superhole Sessions

Durability:

Well, I’ll come right out with it – the back face of one of the blades cracked (across the foam bulge), and I have no idea how. However, Fire It Up took my word for this, stood behind their product accepting there must have been a problem with the it, and replaced the blade free of charge. Really excellent customer service. When it looked like the paddles might not get back to me in time for my flight to Uganda, Steve was even prepared to drive them up to Glasgow Airport for me. Luckily this wasn’t necessary, but their customer service is the best in the industry in my book. Since the blade was replaced, there have been no issues. To some extent, every foam core blade from every manufacturer will be more prone to damage than a solid one, the pros and cons are something for the individual paddler to weigh up – I can’t see myself ever going back though.

Heading for the kicker on Fishladder, North Esk

In all other ways, the durability has been exceptional! I’m pretty hard on my gear, and especially on low volume Scottish creeks, rock bashing is unavoidable. The edges of the blades are thicker than pretty much any other carbon paddle on the market, and this really does help them stand up to wear and tear. I’m primarily comparing the durability here to my old VE’s, and to my friend’s carbon Powerhouses. In similar time periods and amounts of use, the VE’s chipped much more than the Pulses, and the Powerhouses ‘wore down’ (in a similar way to glass) – no signs of that at all on the Pulses, even on the old blade. Of course, the blades and shaft have a lot of scratches and aren’t so pretty anymore, but that’s unavoidable and entirely normal. The extra blade thickness does add a little weight over other paddles on the market (in the air – in the water the foam core makes them feel light and buoyant), but I’ll take that trade-off any day for extra strength. I don’t mind a bit of weight in a paddle though – it feels more sturdy and dependable.

Summary:

I’m very happy with the Pulses, and can’t see myself changing paddles anytime soon. The combination of power, water-feel, slice and ruggedness is an absolute winner, whatever type of paddling you’re doing. I now live in Austria, and am really looking forward to getting them out on some alpine stuff in the Spring – I’m sure they’ll excel. On top of all this, Fire It Up are one of the best companies out there at the moment, really look after the customer and are very helpful if you have any questions. They are expensive, but worth it for the performance in my opinion. The other paddles in Select’s line up are cheaper, and may be worth a look if budget is an issue.

One more thing to note – think about which blade size you want. Smaller lighter paddlers will likely get on better with the smaller, 650cms blade.

Available From:

http://www.fire-it-up.co.uk/

Dropping into Triple Step on the Etive

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